Apr 20, 2015 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs


If you’re tempted to give your child a sip of alcohol, think twice.

New research finds that kids who are permitted to sip alcohol are more likely to start drinking by high school.

Scientists in Rhode Island surveyed 561 middle school students to find out whether they had consumed alcohol. Nearly 30% reported sipping alcohol by sixth grade, and most were given it by an adult, usually their parent. By high school, those “sippers” were five times more likely to have had a full alcoholic beverage than their peers who had not sipped alcohol. They were four times more likely to report getting drunk or bingeing.

Cynthia Gellner, MD, a pediatrician at University of Utah Health, says some parents call it the “European model.” They believe that allowing kids to taste alcohol in the safety of their home removes the taboo and teaches responsible drinking.

But she discourages parents from trying it.

“I do not think it is ever OK for a young child to sip alcohol,” Gellner says. “It’s illegal. By parents giving the children sips of alcohol, they are pretty much enabling the child to participate in an illegal activity, which is where the mixed message is.”

Gellner encourages parents to talk with their kids about alcohol. Ask whether they have friends who have tried alcohol and what is their perception of kids who drink. As they get older, discuss peer pressure and teach them how to say no. Keep lines of communication open and let them know that whatever happens, you are there for them.

She offers these tips for preventing underage drinking:

  • Set an example by drinking responsibly. 
  • Discuss your rules regarding underage drinking. 
  • Explain negative effects of alcohol: Drinking makes it harder to see clearly and walk without tripping, and causes bad breath and headaches the next day.
  • Have a plan for your children if they go to a party where alcohol is being served so they know you can pick them up. Tell them to never get in a car with a friend who has been drinking.
  • Have them check in with you periodically with a call or text so you know they are safe.
  • Get to know their friends and friends’ parents. 

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